With this being an extremely deep tight end class and only one drafted in the first round, the Lions had their pick of the remaining top choices. Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer (who was selected with the next pick) and Georgia’s Darnell Washington were high on many analysts' boards, but as we have seen with the Lions time and time again, LaPorta’s football character likely put him at the top of the Lions’ wish list.
At the NFL Combine, LaPorta met with the Lions and he discussed his interview during his press conference:
“I walked in there and immediately hit the tape,” LaPorta recalled. “I started learning a new play call. And after I learned a new play call for about five minutes, they jumped into some of my tape, and then at the very end of the meeting, we came back to the play call and I had to remember all the splits of the receivers, tight ends, what routes were they running. Very small details as the routes and it was interesting.”
LaPorta was a four-year starter at Iowa and a team captain as a senior—with Iowa’s other captain being Lions first-round pick Jack Campbell. LaPorta is a modern TE-Y, meaning he splits his time (almost equally) between lining up inline and split out in the slot. He is an above-average pass catcher who understands how to manipulate and stretch the seam, regardless of where he lines up. His foot quickness is one of the best parts of his overall impressive athleticism and it allows him to uncover while presenting a big target for his quarterback.
As a blocker, LaPorta has a lot of positive traits, but he will get high at times and will need to clean that up at the next level. He is a consistent competitor and will carry blocks both at the line of scrimmage and in the open field. Like his Iowa teammate Campbell, LaPorta was one of the players we identified on our Grit List (identifying “Dan Campbell guys”) this season.
Iowa TE Sam LaPorta— Shane Carter (@ShaneCarterTx) March 20, 2023
Some TEs in this draft are faster, some can block better & some have better hands but NONE are as complete a player as he is. Best combination blocking/receiving TE in the draft. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/aRfgkLdV6J
The Lions return all three tight ends they finished the season with in 2022—Bright Wright, James Mitchell, and Shane Zylstra—but LaPorta clearly has the highest ceiling of the bunch. The starting role will not be handed to the Iowa tight end, but by the end of training camp, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he ends up the starter.
LaPorta also helps the Lions solidify the position for the future, as he and Mitchell are both under contract in 2024, while Wright and Zylstra will be restricted free agents.